“People will tell you market research is a science, and there are scientific parts to it, but
when it’s done well, it’s an art,” wrote one market researcher. Market researchers prepare studies
and surveys, analyze demographic information and purchasing histories, review the factors
that affect product demand, and make recommendations to manufacturing and sales
forces about the market for their product. This multifaceted job requires financial, statistical,
scientific, and aesthetic skills, as well as common sense.
Market researchers work on projects that proceed in
stages. At the beginning of a project, a market researcher may
spend three weeks with other market researchers designing a
survey and testing it on small samples of their intended population.
In later stages, they may define demographics, distribute the survey, and collect and
assemble data. In the final stages, they may analyze survey responses to uncover consumer
preferences or needs that have not yet been identified. Like all scientific experiments, “the
assumptions we make are key. If we don’t get those clear at the beginning, it’s going to affect
our entire study,” wrote one respondent. Those people who specialize in public opinion surveys
are particularly careful about how they phrase their questions, as a single misplaced
modifier can dramatically affect the meaning of a question and, likewise, its responses.
Market researchers work on their own and on teams. Many researchers find it difficult
to adjust to working on a team. As one respondent said, “There are a lot of opinions about
what constitutes the perfect survey. Four market researchers are going to have four different
opinions.”This diversity of opinion, while celebrated in the world at large, can make for difficult
strategizing sessions and even more difficult interpretations of results. Good market
researchers are careful listeners and remain flexible in their assumptions. They have to be
good at communicating their results; a miscommunication between the market research
department and management can lead to a financial disaster.
An entry-level market research position requires only an undergraduate degree. Employers
look favorably on a degree in marketing and courses in statistics, mathematics, survey design,
advertising, and psychology. Graduate degrees in marketing, business, or statistics are becoming
more common among individuals in management positions. Work experience that demonstrates
a creative intellect and the ability to work on teams is also well received. Prospective market
researchers should be aware that early jobs in the field entail plenty of menial work—copying,
proofreading, inputting data, and the like. Individuals who are willing to carry out these
entry-level tasks go on to fill positions of responsibility.
Market researchers have statistics and survey skills, and many of them acquire business
and production skills while employed by companies or lobbies. Market researchers who
change careers usually become executives, advertising managers, demographic analysts (for
the Census Bureau), and statisticians. Market researchers do well in any position that combines
numerical analysis with interpersonal skills; many of them become economists or